The Compatibility of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge -- By: John D. Laing

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 47:3 (Sep 2004)
Article: The Compatibility of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge
Author: John D. Laing


The Compatibility of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge

John D. Laing*

[John Laing is assistant professor of theology and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Houston Park Place Campus, 4105 Broadway, Houston, TX 77087]

1. Introduction

The doctrine of middle knowledge has seen a revival of interest in the last twenty years, primarily among philosophers of religion.1 However, it has recently enjoyed much attention in theological circles as well. More and more Calvinist thinkers are attempting to incorporate middle knowledge into their systems of thought. In this paper, I hope to evaluate the prospects of this endeavor. That is, I hope to determine whether or not a compatibilist view of freedom (as opposed to a libertarian view of freedom) can be reconciled with the doctrine of middle knowledge.

In order to prosecute this agenda, I will begin with a brief look at the basic differences between libertarianism and compatibilism and follow with a brief discussion of the doctrine of middle knowledge. I will then move to an examination of how it may be incorporated into a Calvinistic model of divine providence, using Terrance Tiessen’s Calvinistic Middle Knowledge Account as representative of the effort to wed the two systems of thought.

Libertarian freedom is generally thought to include a freedom of choice that is self-determined and not caused by events outside the control of the agent. Thus, given a choice between competing alternatives, the individual can choose either way, and once a choice has been made, it is asserted that the agent could have chosen otherwise. Compatibilist freedom is generally thought to include a freedom of choice that is self-determined but may, in some instances (or in all instances), be causally determined by events outside the control of the agent. As Feinberg has put it, “an action is free even if causally determined so long as the causes are non-constraining,” by which he means that the causes can be sufficient to bring about an action, but not contrary to the individual’s will, desires, or wishes.2 Of course, the meaning of self-determination in each view is somewhat different. In libertarianism, it means both that the choice was made by the individual and that it was

not caused by anything outside the individual. By contrast, compatibilism uses the language of self-determination to mean that the choice was made by the individual in accordance with his or her will, desires, or wishes, but there are sufficient causes for the action, and those causes are either ex...

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